Burton Avenue United Church, Barrie Ontario

Once again, we arrived to a packed house on May 13. One woman who arrived late had trouble finding somewhere to sit. The sanctuary is rather small, but they also have a balcony that allows an average attendance of 150 with 40 children & youth. All children & youth workers are volunteer and they have an active youth group that meets every other Sunday evening for fun activities, worship, Bible study & serious check-in. The youth love it! They are involved in Worship leadership regularly and with Outreach projects including the TRC group, partnering with the Barrie Native Friendship Centre and becoming involved in a Nicaraguan partnership with a local church. Their motto with the Nicaraguan partnership is to build relationships, not buildings, so that they do not take away work from locals. Many of their outreach projects are supported by grants and lay members write grant applications. The congregation’s multiple outreach projects have attracted newcomers.

This congregation plans for a budget surplus every year. They have many fundraising dinners and opportunities for socializing. On the Sunday we attended, they announced two fundraising activities that collectively raised about $10,000. To assist with these activities, they invite as many volunteers as possible, including newcomers so that they can feel as if they belong. Newcomers don’t have to earn their stripes, but are invited right away to help out with projects and leadership. Newcomers constitute about half of their membership, some of whom came from recent closures of other United Churches.

They felt their congregation to be warm and supportive without pockets of conflict or tension that frequently mar congregations. At the end of each Board meeting, everyone offers words of gratitude. This is particularly helpful if they have had difficult conversations during the meeting. The Board welcomes critique and regularly engages in self-reflection, making room for newcomers to implement new ideas. Long-time members do not seem to guard ownership over their areas of ministry, but welcome others with different ways of doing things. They are willing to risk new ideas, recognizing that some will not work while others will take off. This allows space for the Spirit to move creatively in their midst.

Next Sunday: we will visit Grace United Church in Brampton, Ontario. https://www.graceunitedbrampton.com

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2 Comments

  1. Bonjour Loraine!
    I am reading your articles with great interest. I have this question : what attracts people to this church in the first place? The welcome, the quality of the service, the singing, the sermon ?
    What about the minister of this congregation ?

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    1. Bonne question! So far, I would say all of the above (although they would say the music, not the singing). Also, the first two churches we have visited make a point of inviting newcomers to volunteer (and even lead) fairly soon after they arrive, so that they have a greater sense of belonging. They are also welcoming of their ideas and risk change. Many people said that they were attracted to the congregations by the multiple congregational outreach projects.

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